Tag: Governor Whitmer

How the Great Lakes Will Benefit from Governor Whitmer’s Energy Plan

Originally published October 6, 2023; updated February 29, 2024

In what is among the most comprehensive clean energy initiatives in the country, Michigan has become the first industrialized swing state to enact laws requiring 100 percent of electric power to come from carbon-free sources by 2040. The ambitious legislative agenda, fulfilling Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan, also increases energy efficiency standards, address energy equity in disadvantaged communities, and empowers the Michigan Public Service Commission to consider climate change, affordability, and equity in its decision-making. The passage of the bills will save Michigan ratepayers an estimated $5.5 billion through 2050.

These benefits to Michigan are on top of the energy investments flowing from the federal Inflation Reduction Act that have catalyzed an estimated over $21 billion in new investment in Michigan, helped create almost 16,000 good-paying clean energy jobs, and brought twenty-four major new clean energy manufacturing projects to Michigan – more than any other state.

But these are not the only measurable benefits that the energy transition brings to Michigan. As we celebrate Michigan’s newfound leadership in clean energy, it’s vitally important to underscore the positive impact the energy transition will have on Michigan’s water resources.

Decarbonizing Michigan’s Economy Will Dramatically Improve Water Quality

Governor Whitmer’s MI Healthy Climate Plan will not only accelerate Michigan’s clean energy transition and decarbonize our economy, it will provide long-term benefits to Michigan’s water resources.

As we retire fossil fuel-based energy sources and replace them with clean energy technologies – wind and solar power, green hydrogen, electric vehicles, and energy storage devices – we will markedly and measurably reduce the harmful impacts that producing and burning fossil fuels have on our Great Lakes, rivers and streams, and groundwater.

Wind and solar energy are infinite sources of free, clean power. Unlike fossil fuels which are finite, costly, inherently dirty, and cause billions of dollars of negative environmental and health impacts, wind and solar energy are free, clean, and with far fewer impacts to the environment and human health.

Impacts from Thermoelectric Generation

Water and energy have always been highly interdependent. Producing power uses tremendous amounts of water. From the first water wheels used to ground grain 6,000 years ago, through the Roman age of invention where water was moved great distances to irrigate crops and provide drinking water, to the production of energy from hydropower, fossil-fuel, and nuclear power plants, water has always been an essential component of energy

Electricity generated by steam from burning coal or natural gas, and nuclear fission – called thermoelectric generation – accounts for 68 percent of water use in the Great Lakes Region and 74 percent of all water use in Michigan. Thermoelectric generation causes significant, harmful, and destructive direct impacts on our water resources.

Power plants need massive amounts of cooling water to operate. Water pumped from the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers “entrain” or kills millions of fish and aquatic organisms, including early-life-stage fish, eggs, and larvae. Once heated, water released from power plants causes thermal impacts that stress and kill fish and other aquatic organisms. Warm water also can change fish populations, decrease dissolved oxygen levels, propagate algae, and alter “benthic communities” – the broad ecological biome of animals (including crustaceans and mussels), plants, and bacteria that live in the water and the lake bottom.

Impacts from Coal

Michigan’s coal plants are also responsible for the widespread pollution of our Great Lakes. Available data show that Michigan-based coal-fired plants emit approximately 3000 lbs. of mercury – a powerful neurotoxin every year. Coal plants are responsible for 57 percent of all mercury present in the Great Lakes, resulting in official health advisories cautioning the public to limit consumption of Great Lakes fish. In 2021 alone, thermoelectric power plants in Michigan also emitted 64,301 tons of sulfur dioxide, 58,284 tons of nitrogen oxide, and 55,450,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

In addition to these contaminants, coal combustion produces air emissions that contain lead, particulates, and various other heavy metals that are deposited in our lakes, rivers , and streams. Coal combustion also produces fly ash and slag, which have been deposited in unlined landfills for many decades. Recent research has revealed that of the fifty-two known coal ash landfills in Michigan, almost all are leaking heavy metals into Michigan’s groundwater.

Mining coal also consumes huge amounts of water In 2021, 50 to 59 gallons of water were used for each of the 577 million tons of coal mined.

Impacts from Oil and Gas 

There are more than 900,000 active oil and gas wells in the United States. Oil and gas production from shale formations uses 1.5 to 16 million gallons of water for each well. This water becomes contaminated with a variety of chemicals and oil and gas constituents.

Oil and gas produced from shale formations require “hydraulic fracturing,” a process using large volumes of water, chemicals, and sand pumped under high pressure to keep pore spaces open so that oil and gas can be recovered. The drilling process yields contaminated “flow-back” water, as well as naturally occurring brine that is pumped out with the oil and gas. This chemical laden water is then disposed of by pumping it back deep underground.

Burning natural gas produces emissions that include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter – all of which inevitably find their way into Michigan’s surface waters.

Pipelines transport crude oil and gas to refineries, and refined oil and gas to their end use. Between 1998 and 2017 there were 11,758 pipeline spills in the United States that were classified as “significant” by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Included among them is the most catastrophic pipeline failure in United States history. The Enbridge pipeline rupture near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010, released more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into a direct tributary of the Kalamazoo River. The rupture of Enbridge Line 6B resulted in pervasive contamination and massive ecological damage to the waters and surrounding wetlands.

Another oil pipeline now threatens the world’s most valuable fresh surface water system. The 70-year old Line 5, also owned and operated by Enbridge, traverses the Straits of Mackinac at the confluence of Lakes Michigan and Huron. The free spanning underwater pipeline has been repeatedly struck by ship’s anchors and cables dragged by passing vessels have damaged the pipelines and its supports. Line 5 is uniquely vulnerable to multiple impacts that could result in irreversible environmental harm and billions of dollars of damage to the Great Lakes regional economy.

Climate Change and Michigan Waters 

We are only beginning to understand the pervasive impact climate change is having on our lakes, rivers, and other water-dependent resources. Climate change brings specific climate related impacts, risks, and challenges to the protection and management of public water resources.

The combustion of fossil fuels has raised regional temperatures 2.3 degrees since 1951. Warming temperatures destabilize lake, river, and stream ecology, altering conditions and habitat for fish and aquatic organisms. Like the oceans, the Great Lakes are absorbing excess heat. Lake Superior, despite its size, is one of the fastest warming lakes in the world with temperatures increasing 3-4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Warming temperatures are changing our weather. The National Climate Assessment forecasts both increased frequency and severity of storm events in the Great Lakes region. Increased flooding will cause sewer overflows that reach our Great Lakes, increased soil erosion; and more fertilizer, pesticides, and herbicides to wash into our streams and rivers.

The Energy/Water Nexus 

We can mitigate or even potentially avoid the most severe effects of climate change by implementing Governor Whitmer’s energy and climate plans. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy cannot come soon enough.

The benefits of the proposed energy transition to our water resources are not speculative, they are measurable and based on science. Wind and solar energy are now the least expensive new energy infrastructure available worldwide. Every megawatt-hour of wind and solar energy saves 8,270 gallons of water from being used for thermal cooling.

An acre of solar panels producing electricity keeps 121 to 138 metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every year. That same acre of solar panels can power an electric vehicle 40 to 100 times farther than ethanol produced from the same acre of corn. And ethanol production can require up to 865 gallons of water for each gallon of fuel produced.

The benefits of clean energy, significant as they are, pale when compared to the harms that clean energy can help us avoid. The economics of clean energy do not include the difficult to quantify but very real aggregate cost of “negative externalities” – the harmful environmental and health impacts that flow from the use of fossil fuels.

Annual environmental and health damages linked to coal mining, processing, and combustion have been estimated at $365 billion annually (2010 dollars). The annual environmental and health damages from burning fossil fuels have been estimated at up to $970 billion annually.

Globally, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that pollution from fossil fuels cost the world’s economy more than $5.6 trillion in 2022. This amount, roughly equivalent to total annual global energy expenditures, if added to the cost of producing fossil fuels, makes the favorable economics of clean energy technologies undeniable, and an overwhelming and compelling basis to transition from fossil fuels as quickly as possible.

Governor Whitmer’s clean energy and climate initiatives redound with multiple benefits to public health, the environment, the business community, and Michigan citizens at large. And thanks to the Governor’s policies that are being advanced today, the largest, most extraordinary fresh surface water system in the world – our Great Lakes – will also enjoy long-term future benefits and be preserved and protected for our future generations.


Evergreen Collaborative, The Michigan Clean Energy Framework, https://5lakesenergy.com/wp content/uploads/2023/08/MI-Clean-Energy-Framework-report.pdf
Climate Power, One Year of Our Clean Energy Boom, July 25, 2023 https://climatepower.us/wp-content/uploads/sites/23/2023/07/Clean-Energy-Boom-Anniversary-Report-1.pdf 
Great Lakes Commission, Annual Report of the Great Lakes Regional Water Use Database, 2021  https://waterusedata.glc.org/pdf/2021-Water-Use-Report-FINAL.pdf 
NRDC, Power Plant Cooling and Associated Impacts: The Need to Modernize U.S. Power Plants and Protect Our  Water Resources and Aquatic Ecosystems, April 2014 https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/power-plant cooling-IB.pdf 
Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, 2005 Estimates of Anthropogenic Mercury Air Emissions in  Michigan, November 2011 https://www.michigan.gov/media/Project/Websites/egle/Documents/Reports/AQD/mercury/2005-michigan-anthropogenic-mercury inventory.pdf?rev=b56f9f929bad4c229f36f6639b3f07b2 
EPA, Health Effects of Exposures to Mercury, Accessed September 9, 2023 https://www.epa.gov/mercury/health effects-exposures-mercury 
NRDC, Poisoning the Great Lakes: Mercury Emissions from Coal-Fired Power Plants In the Great Lakes Region,  June 2012 https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/poisoning-the-great-lakes.pdf 
U.S. Energy Information Administration, November 10, 2022 https://www.eia.gov/electricity/state/michigan/
Earth Justice, Toxic Coal Ash in Michigan: Addressing Coal Plants’ Hazardous Legacy, May 3, 2023  https://earthjustice.org/feature/coal-ash-states/michigan#:~:text=Michigan%20utilities%20operate%2030%20regulated,of%20the%20state’s%20regulated %20dumpsites
USGS, Methods for Estimating Water Withdrawals for Mining in the United States, 2005  https://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2009/5053/pdf/sir2009-5053.pdf 
U.S. Energy Information Administration, Coal Explained, Accessed October 9, 2023  https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/coal/how-much-coal-is-left.php#:~:text=Based%20on%20U.S.%20coal%20production,would%20last%20about%2021%20years
U.S. Energy Information Administration, The Distribution of U.S. Oil and Natural Gas Wells by Production Rate  December 2022 https://www.eia.gov/petroleum/wells/pdf/full_report.pdf 
USGS, How much water does the typical hydraulically fractured well require? Accessed October 9, 2023  https://www.usgs.gov/faqs/how-much-water-does-typical-hydraulically-fractured-well-require?qt news_science_products=0#qt-news_science_products 
EPA, Natural Gas, Accessed October 9, 2023 https://www3.epa.gov/ttnchie1/ap42/ch01/final/c01s04.pdf
Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, https://www.phmsa.dot.gov/data-and-statistics/pipeline/pipeline-incident-20-year-trends  
National Transportation Safety Board, Accident Report, Enbridge Incorporated Hazardous Liquid Pipeline  Rupture and Release Marshall, Michigan July 25, 2010 https://www.ntsb.gov/investigations/AccidentReports/Reports/PAR1201.pdf 
Petoskey News-Review, History shows record of multiple Straits anchor strikes, May 16, 2019 https://www.petoskeynews.com/story/news/local/2019/05/16/history-shows-record-of-multiple-straits-anchor-strikes/44233105/ 
Enbridge, Inc., Investigation into Disturbances to Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac in May and June of 2020,  August 21, 2020  https://onedrive.live.com/?authkey=%21ANaLBWlYH%2DsOquY&cid=ED235B80C2B9171B&id=ED235B80C2B9171 B%2126489&parId=ED235B80C2B9171B%216332&o=OneUp 
Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessments https://glisa.umich.edu/climate-change-in-the-great-lakes-region-references/ 
Phys.Org, Lake Superior is among the fastest-warming lakes on the planet. Climate change may be the culprit,  October 22, 2021 https://phys.org/news/2021-10-lake-superior-fastest-warming-lakes-planet.html
Utility Dive, Renewables would provide cheaper energy than 99% of US coal plants and catalyze a just energy  transition, February 9. 2023 https://www.utilitydive.com/news/renewables-cheaper-energy-than-99-percent-of us-coal-plants-just-energy-transition/642393/ 
NREL, A Retrospective Analysis of the Benefits and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards, January 2016  https://www.nrel.gov/docs/fy16osti/65005.pdf 
Columbia Climate School, Solar Panels Reduce CO2 Emissions More Per Acre Than Trees — and Much More Than  Corn Ethanol, October 26, 2022 https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2022/10/26/solar-panels-reduce-co2-emissions-more-per-acre-than-trees-and-much-more-than-corn-ethanol/ 
Columbia Climate School, Ethanol’s Impacts on Our Water Resources, March 21, 2011  https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2011/03/21/ethanol%e2%80%99s-impacts-on-our-water-resources/
Epstein, P., et al, Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School, February 17, 2011  https://nyaspubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05890.x#:~:text=These%20costs%20are%20external%20to,of%20a%20trillion%20dollars%20annually
Shindell, D., The social cost of atmospheric release, February 25, 2015 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-015-1343-0#/page-1 
International Monetary Fund, IMF Fossil Fuel Subsidies Data: 2023 Update, August 24, 2023 https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/WP/Issues/2023/08/22/IMF-Fossil-Fuel-Subsidies-Data-2023-Update-537281#:~:text=Globally%2C%20fossil%20fuel%20subsidies%20were,warming%20and%20local%20air%20pollution

Michigan eliminates counterproductive environmental rules committee

The Michigan Legislature recently completed action on a bill eliminating the Environmental Rules Review Committee (ERRC). The ERRC gave polluters and developers an avenue for stopping, slowing, or weakening proposed environmental protection rules. Six of the eleven seats on the committee six were designated for industries regulated by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

On Tuesday, February 27 Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the legislation into law ( http://legislature.mi.gov/doc.aspx?2023-HB-4826 ).

The ERRC was created in the final year of former Governor Rick Snyder’s administration, to allow parties dissatisfied with proposed environmental rules to challenge them. This duplicated processes that were already in place, such as the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

In effect, the ERRC gave opponents of proposed environmental rules an extra bite of the apple. The elimination of the committee will restore the ample review processes that existed before it was created.

“I’ve always been an advocate for protecting our environment. By removing the Environmental Rules Review Committee — a committee mostly made up of corporate polluters — from statute, we are able to ensure that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy can fulfill its mission of protecting our air, water, land and people,” said state Representative Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy). “I’m glad to see this bill make its way to the finish line. We are putting the health and well-being of Michiganders before corporate profit.”

See also:

Michigan Advance: Whitmer signs bills axing controversial environmental rules review committee

Michigan Public: Environmental Rules Review Committee repeal heads to governor

Governor Whitmer’s Budget Proposes Major New Funding for Water Priorities

Whitmer budget presentation

The budget proposal announced by Governor Whitmer on February 8 contains hundreds of millions of dollars in new and increased funding for vital water needs and is an encouraging sign as the new legislative session gets into full swing.

Whitmer’s budget for the fiscal year that begins next October 1 includes the following items:

  • $280.5 million for local wastewater and drinking water infrastructure;
  • $226 million to remove and replace 40,000 lead service lines over the next 10 years;
  • $122.5 million to ensure the quality of drinking water through water filter distribution, and faucet and plumbing replacement in residences with lead pipes;
  • $100 million to establish an environmental justice contamination cleanup and redevelopment fund for sites in underrepresented and underserved communities. The Governor says the initiative will also expand air pollution controls in historically disadvantaged and underrepresented communities. “This funding will begin the process of rectifying environmental injustice,” the budget says.
  • $25 million for the removal of dams, allowing natural flow of rivers and preventing catastrophic dam failures.
  • $23.8 million to conduct studies and collect data on Michigan’s groundwater resources.
  • $7 million for a new, interactive groundwater database.

FLOW is reacting positively to the Governor’s proposal.  “Whitmer’s budget reflects her Administration’s continued commitment to securing safe, affordable drinking water for all,” said Liz Kirkwood, FLOW’s Executive Director.  

Kirkwood said the Governor’s groundwater funding proposals are welcome. Groundwater protection is a FLOW priority. “We applaud the Administration’s commitment to investing in groundwater management and protection. For too long, Michigan has ignored the vital role of groundwater in protecting our drinking water and the ecological health of rivers, lakes, streams, and wetlands.

“Moving forward,” Kirkwood continued, “FLOW will work to ensure decision-makers scale up long-term investments in our water infrastructure with affordable rates, groundwater management and protection, and climate and community resiliency.” 

In a separate bill already signed by the Governor, the Michigan Legislature approved $25 million to establish a water affordability program that would prevent the shutoff of water services to residential customers struggling to pay their water service bills. While the fund lands well short of the need, its establishment is an encouraging sign that the Governor and Legislature understand water service is essential to all Michiganders.

Opinion // Keep Michigan water affordable and in public hands

By: Liz Kirkwood, Executive Director
January 17, 2023 // Bridge Michigan

Michigan is a water wonderland — think Great Lakes, 36,000 miles of rivers and streams, groundwater that supplies 45 percent of our state with drinking water, and more than 6 million acres of wetlands.

But these waters face a daunting array of challenges, everything from microplastics to toxic “forever chemicals,” inadequate infrastructure funding to the stresses of climate change. The impact on residents includes soaring water bills, water shutoffs and widespread concern about lead and chemical contamination.

In 2023, Michigan needs an inspiring vision, championed from the highest places inside our government and out. In her State of the State message set for Jan. 25, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has a chance to show the way by articulating bold proposals for Michigan’s water. I urge herto declare 2023 the Year of Keeping Water Public and Protected for All in Michigan.

Secure Affordable Rates and Public Control

  • Water affordability and access: Water is essential to sanitation, health and life itself. No Michigander should be denied public water service because of inability to pay. Michigan should enact legislation to ban residential water shutoffs, fix the affordability crisis and address water injustices.
  • Public Water Legislation: The state should enact legislation imposing royalties on bottlers who commodify waters owned by the State of Michigan at practically no cost and reap extraordinary profit on the resale. The royalties should make up a clean water trust fund to serve Michigan residents and communities for dedicated public purposes, including ending water shutoffs and helping people whose wells are contaminated.
  • Keep municipal water utilities public: Michigan must draw a clear line against any plan to privatize public water services, which weakens local control and can ratchet up rates while maintenance lags.

Protect Drinking Water and Public Health

We have made considerable progress in dealing with the kind of pollution the 1972 Clean Water Act targeted, but new threats continually emerge for which our laws are ill-prepared. The governor should call for actions to address not only these threats but also the mistakes of the past:

  • Groundwater: These vital but largely invisible waters are contaminated in over 15,000 localities. Another $50 million a year should be dedicated to the cleanup of toxic sites and prevention of groundwater contamination.
  • Climate resilience and water infrastructure funding: Climate change is putting unprecedented stress on already-faltering water systems. Despite a one-time infusion of federal funds last year, our water infrastructure faces a multi-billion dollar investment gap. We need long-term funding sources, and new water projects must be designed for an era of intensifying storms.
  • A new approach to chemical contamination: We can no longer deal with chemicals like PFAS one-by-one and after they have done environmental harm. Instead, the precautionary principle should be the foundation of our chemical policy, requiring chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of the chemicals before they can be authorized for commerce.

Our actions now will define and shape the future of the Great Lakes. This future demands a new relationship with water, and recognizes, in the words of Jacques Cousteau, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.”

Imagine a future where we place water at the center of all decision-making. And imagine the profoundly positive impacts that result in energy choices, food systems, the transportation and housing sectors, urban development, manufacturing and more.

Safeguarding our Great Lakes is a deeply shared value and, despite daily indications of bitter polarization in our politics, this important area of common ground bridges political divides. Prudently conceived and boldly implemented, keeping our water public and protected for all can help secure Michigan’s future.

Governor Whitmer Has Opportunity to Lead on the Environment

Photo: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Nov. 9, 2021, joined by Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad and construction workers, visited the Benton Harbor site where the first lead service lines were being replaced after her expedited commitment to replace 100% of those lines in the city in 18 months.

As she begins her fourth year in office, Governor Whitmer has an opportunity to build on past environmental successes and set the tone for an historic year of accomplishment. Thanks to significant federal COVID-relief aid and a state economy performing better than forecast, Michigan has a rare abundance of funding to attack the state’s multibillion-dollar backlog of sewer, storm, and drinking water infrastructure needs and attend to other urgent environmental needs. Here are a few ways she can strengthen public health protections and restore our environment.

Declare “The Year of Water”: Setting the stage for an unprecedented year of action on water, the governor should declare 2022 “The Year of Water” for state government. The agenda for the Year of Water approach should be governed by two core principles: 

(1) all Michiganders have a paramount fundamental public interest and right to safe, clean, and affordable water under Art. 4, Section 51 and 52 of the State Constitution; and

(2) Michiganders should expect their government to uphold its solemn public trust duty to protect state waters.

Create a “Clean Water Trust Fund”: A one-time investment in sewage and drinking water systems is not enough to assure clean, safe, affordable, and accountability when it comes to the rights of citizens to Michigan’s public water. A Clean Water Trust Fund, established by statute or state constitutional amendment, would provide a long-term answer for cities and rural communities. Modeled in part after Michigan’s constitutionally protected Natural Resources Trust Fund, which dedicates a portion of state oil and gas revenue to the purchase of recreational and ecologically important land for the public, a Clean Water Trust Fund would be one of the first of its kind in the nation.

End Water service shutoffs: The pandemic has underscored the danger to human health of cutting off water service to households unable to pay their bills. Water is essential to personal health, sanitation, and dignity. Governor Whitmer took action to assure water service to thousands of households early in the pandemic. This policy should be made permanent, with funding and the trust fund oversight required to back it up. 

Remove all lead service lines and lead household connections in drinking water systems: The crises in Flint and Benton Harbor have made it clear that lead in drinking water is a major public health risk, especially to our most vulnerable Michiganders—children. The governor should set a goal of replacing all lead service lines and household connections statewide within the next five years.

Aggressively tackle threats posed by PFAS “forever chemicals”: With part of the federal relief funding, the governor should propose a three-year plan to clean up orphan PFAS contamination sites where no private polluter can be identified and should call for the legislature to restore Michigan’s polluter pay law to hold accountable those who have contaminated Michigan’s land and waters. Further, she should pledge state government leadership in promoting alternatives to PFAS in products and manufacturing and firefighting.

Developing a plan to prevent further microplastics contamination of Michigan’s waters—including the water we drink: In the United States, we ingest the equivalent of one credit card a week in plastic. Tiny breakdown particles from plastics use and disposal are an environmental and public health risk. The governor should convene a working group to come up with solutions that take effect at the earliest possible time.

Continue to protect and sustain Michigan’s Great Lakes and water resources from the effects of climate change: The governor launched an integrative approach to the Great Lakes, water resources, environment and energy in MI Healthy Climate Plan. To address the devastating effects of climate change, the state must accelerate and lead this effort by building resilient green infrastructure, identifying and improving protection of floodplains and wetlands, and promoting renewable and efficient energy and services, such as net-zero carbon buildings.

The year 2022 is a chance for the governor to secure her Great Lakes, environmental, energy, and climate legacy, and to make the Year of Water a turning point for the better in Michigan’s history.

Remember When Line 5 Shut Down a Year Ago, and None of Enbridge’s Doomsaying Came True?

Dire Straits: A damaged portion of Line 5 in the Straits of Mackinac shown in this June 2020 photo provided to the State of Michigan by Enbridge.

By Nora Baty

Nora Baty is a Milliken Law and Policy Intern at FLOW and a 3rd-year law student at the University of Michigan.

Do you remember the last time Line 5 shut down? This week marks the one-year anniversary of Line 5’s closure following significant damage to an anchor support likely caused by an Enbridge-contracted vessel.

Research conducted by former Dow Chemical engineer Gary Street found that in August 2020, after more than 50 days with at least one leg of Line 5 closed due to damage from a cable strike, gasoline prices and supply were unaffected in Michigan and Canada. While gasoline consumption during the pandemic was down from previous years in August 2020, the finding is consistent with a 2018 independent analysis. That study found that shutting down Line 5 was unlikely to significantly impact consumer prices at the pump, with a forecasted increase of less than one cent per gallon, and that Michigan’s energy needs could be met without Line 5. (See also, “Fact Check: When Line 5 Shuts Down, Detroit Jets Will Still Fly and Union Refinery Jobs Will Still Exist”).

Enbridge continues to operate Line 5 in direct violation of Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s lawful shutdown order, with the Canadian pipeline company claiming that “shutting down Line 5 even temporarily, would have immediate and severe consequences on the economies of Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, and elsewhere.” 

Available capacity and flexibility to meet energy demand in the Great Lakes region already exists in the North American energy pipeline system operated by Enbridge and its competitors without threatening our public waters and the economy, according to FLOW’s experts. As the energy landscape shifts with the slowdown of oil and gas production, the adoption of electric vehicles, and accelerating commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions, Enbridge continues to operate the 68-year-old Line 5 pipelines in defiance of the law. Operating in the open waters of the Straits of Mackinac since 1953, Line 5 endangers 20% of the planet’s and 84% of North America’s surface fresh water, risks devastation of coastal communities, and threatens to cause billions of dollars of damages to the environment and local and regional economies, while Enbridge continues refusing to provide financial assurances for the consequences of a spill. 

Enbridge Line 6B’s 2010 spill into the Kalamazoo River near Marshall, Michigan

Line 5 is a ticking time bomb in the Straits that threatens more jobs than it sustains. Line 5 has failed at least 33 times since 1968, spilling more than 1.1 million gallons of oil in Michigan and Wisconsin. Some 3 miles of the pipeline are elevated off the public bottomlands with supports meant to shore up the decaying infrastructure in fierce currents that scour the lakebed. The change in structural design has exposed the pipeline to strikes by anchors and cables, and poses an extreme navigational hazard in a busy shipping channel. (See also, “Key Facts: Line 5 and the Proposed Oil Tunnel“). 

Pervasive organizational failures at Enbridge” caused one of the nation’s largest inland oil spills in July 2010 when its Line 6B pipeline burst near Marshall, Michigan, and for 17 hours dumped 1.2 million gallons of heavy tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River watershed. It took four years and over $1.2 billion to clean it up to the extent possible. 

Enbridge Line 6B was 41 years old when it failed; Enbridge Line 5 is 68 years old and counting.

FLOW Praises Gov. Whitmer for Upholding Public Trust Law on Line 5 by Revoking and Terminating Easement

paddleboarders protesting

Today’s announcement by Governor Whitmer and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Director Eichinger that the State of Michigan, under the public trust doctrine, is revoking and terminating the 1953 easement allowing Enbridge to operate dual pipelines in the Straits of Mackinac—due to repeated violations of the easement—represents a clear victory for the Great Lakes and the citizens and tribes of Michigan, said FLOW executive director Liz Kirkwood today.

“As public trustees of our waters, the State of Michigan is affirmatively upholding the rule of law and protecting the public’s treasured Great Lakes from the clear and present danger of an oil spill catastrophe from Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline.”

“This is an historic day of state leadership by the Whitmer administration brought about by many years of dedicated action by environmental groups, Indian tribes, communities, businesses, faith communities, families, and individuals. People of diverse backgrounds have come together to work tirelessly on a common purpose—protecting the Great Lakes, drinking water, fishing rights, the economy, coastal communities, and a way of life from the most dangerous oil pipeline in America.

“While this is a moment to celebrate, we must remain vigilant until the oil stops flowing for good in May 2021 because Line 5 remains exposed to uncontrollable and powerful forces, including exceptionally strong currents, lakebed scouring, new anchor and cable strikes, and corrosion. These forces dramatically increase the risk of this elevated, outdated pipeline collapsing and causing the unthinkable: a catastrophic oil spill in the heart of the Great Lakes.”

Since 2013, FLOW has filed extensive legal and technical reports with the State of Michigan, including most recently in November 2019, citing extensive evidence of Enbridge operating Line 5 illegally and risking the public’s water. For more information, see FLOW’s original news archive.

To view the State of Michigan documents relating to today’s announcement, click the links below:

Gov. Whitmer’s Proposed Investments a Step Forward in Solving Michigan’s Water Infrastructure Crisis

Janet Meissner Pritchard is FLOW’s Interim Legal Director

By Janet Meissner Pritchard

On October 1, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced $500 million in investments in clean water that she designed to be a significant step forward in solving Michigan’s inequitable, unsustainable water infrastructure crisis. 

The new investment package will provide grants for much-needed water infrastructure projects such as replacing lead service lines, addressing failing or inadequate wastewater infrastructure that contributes to violations of water quality standards, and increasing green infrastructure to reduce risk of flooding and other wet weather impacts that can lead to water quality problems. 

Three features of this investment package are particularly welcome. First, the bulk of the new investments ($417 million) will be made as grants, rather than loans, to fund water infrastructure projects, and a substantial portion of these grant funds will be directed to disadvantaged communities. This is important because the severe decline in federal and state grants for water infrastructure since the late 1970s has led to an overreliance on water ratepayers to repay bonds and loans used to finance much-needed infrastructure projects, resulting in soaring water rates that are unaffordable for households struggling to make ends meet.

Second, Gov. Whitmer’s funding package includes $7.5 million to develop affordable water rates and other affordability programs. Implementing affordable rate structures, such as income-based rates, and other affordability programs, will further relieve the burden on struggling rate payers, greatly reduce the likelihood of household water shutoffs, and ensure more reliable revenues for water utilities. Third, the package also includes $35 million to address failing septic systems, which are contaminating rivers, lakes, groundwater, and private wells in some communities across Michigan.

Status Quo Is Inequitable and Unsustainable

During the 20th century, small and large cities and towns across Michigan and the United States benefited from extensive federal investments in public water systems. Today, local taxpayers and ratepayers bear the burden of assessing, operating, maintaining, and financing water infrastructure with far fewer state and federal subsidies. This overreliance on ratepayers compounds existing inequities. The inability of vulnerable communities to pay for much-needed infrastructure maintenance and upgrades means their needs remain unmet, subjecting these already-vulnerable communities to greater risks of water insecurity and related health, social, and economic impacts.

Overreliance on ratepayers is also unsustainable, not only for households, but also for water utilities that are forced to increase water rates to pay for water infrastructure projects. Water rates might still be manageable for a majority of ratepayers today, but rates are expected to increase sharply, driven in large part by the need to maintain and upgrade neglected water infrastructure. In 2018, the American Association of Civil Engineers gave Michigan a D+ rating for the state of its water infrastructure. Michigan’s 21st Century Infrastructure Commission determined in 2016 that an additional $800 million is needed annually to make the state’s water infrastructure fit for the 21st century, and this estimate did not account for emerging threats to water quality such as PFAS. 

Under a business-as-usual trajectory, in which these infrastructure costs are placed on ratepayers, water prices in Michigan and nationally are expected to skyrocket to four times current levels over the next few decades.​​ If water rates rise at projected levels, conservative projections estimate that nationally over 35% of American households will face water bills requiring them to pay more than 4.5% of their household income for water and sanitation, the threshold beyond which water-and-sewer service becomes unaffordable, per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, although some analysts set that affordability limit at a much lower 2% of household income. Michigan ranks 12th in the nation for the number of census tracts at high risk for unaffordable water bills by 2023.

For many years, water affordability and justice advocates such as the People’s Water Board Coalition and We the People of Detroit have been urging utilities to adopt affordable water rates and other programs to make water bills affordable for families struggling to make ends meet. Since 2014, more than 140,000 Michigan households have had their water shut off due to inability to pay unaffordable water bills. The $7.5 million made available under Gov. Whitmer’s initiative to communities to develop sustainable water rate plans and implement pilot affordability plans within their communities are a long-overdue, initial response to these demands. To create the systemic change needed and to fully address the affordability crisis, more resources will be needed and frontline communities must be involved in the design and implementation of affordability plans.

Needs of Rural Residents Also Addressed

While 70% of Michigan’s population relies on a community system to handle wastewater from their homes, the remaining population relies on residential septic systems. As highlighted at FLOW’s 2019 Michigan Septic Summit, failing septic systems can lead to both public health and environmental risks. But the cost of replacing failing septic systems can be overwhelming for individual homeowners and small rural communities. To make these costs more manageable, Gov. Whitmer’s investment package includes $35 million to establish a low-interest revolving loan program for  homeowners and communities to replace or eliminate failing septic systems that are impacting Michigan’s water resources.

While $500 million for water infrastructure is a significant sum, even more is needed to address Michigan’s mounting annual funding gap. The investments recently announced by Gov. Whitmer also indicate a welcome shift in approach to how Michigan pays for water infrastructure—providing more grant funds, addressing affordability concerns, and extending support to homeowners and rural communities to address failing septic systems. his shift, however, needs to be reinforced and furthered too. 

Michigan lawmakers and water utilities need to join Gov. Whitmer and water justice advocates to relieve pressure on struggling ratepayers, especially in communities facing economic hardship. We need to rebuild our water infrastructure using revenue sources that are more substantial, more equitable, and more sustainable to ensure safe, clean, and affordable water for all in Michigan.

The Milliken Legacy: More than Nostalgia

Governor Milliken’s official portrait graced the cover of his public memorial service at the Interlochen Center for the Arts on August 6.

By Dave Dempsey

In the flurry of news coverage about last week’s memorial service for the late Governor William Milliken, there was plenty of talk of days gone by. The Governor left office 37 years ago, and it sometimes seems as though moderation, civility and environmental ethics left office with him.

But focusing on that would be the wrong takeaway. The Milliken example is a model for today, not a relic of yesterday.

All five speakers at the service, including Milliken’s longtime advisor Bill Rustem and Governor Gretchen Whitmer, struck the right note—a celebration rather than a sad farewell.

FLOW has contributed plenty to the the conversation—in our blog coverage, in our Milliken video testimonials, and in the news media—about the Milliken environmental legacy, including the Michigan Environmental Protection Act. The Governor happened to serve at a time when public consciousness of the need for environmental reforms was peaking, and the man and the times together contributed to our state’s advancement.

Public consciousness is again growing of the need to stabilize our climate, protect fresh water, and conserve vital habitat. But we cannot wait for another Milliken or Teddy Roosevelt to convert that consciousness into positive change.

Instead, it is time for us to lead—and the political so-called leaders will follow. I think Governor Milliken would approve of renewed citizen activism to meet the challenges of our time.

New Michigan Standards for Toxic PFAS in Drinking Water among Most Protective in the U.S.

Dave Dempsey, Senior Advisor

By Dave Dempsey

New, enforceable state drinking water standards to protect public health from seven toxic compounds will take effect early this month.

“Michigan is once again leading the way nationally in fighting PFAS contamination by setting our own science-based drinking water standard,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said.

Called for by Gov. Whitmer last year, the standards set maximum limits for the seven PFAS compounds. Known as “forever chemicals” because they break down slowly in the environment, PFAS have emerged as a national issue as more and more contamination sites are found. Two of the most serious hotspots in Michigan are sites associated with Wolverine Worldwide in Kent County and the former Wurthsmith Air Force Base in Iosco County.

“It is imperative for Michigan to promulgate the proposed rules as soon as practicable,” said FLOW Executive Director Liz Kirkwood. “Testing continues to turn up new sites of PFAS contamination in Michigan, many of them exposing citizens to substantial health risks. Federal rules are likely years away and may not provide the level of protection that the people of Michigan want and need for public health and the environment.”

The standards apply to approximately 2,700 public drinking water supplies across the state and will be enforced by the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). FLOW and other organizations have strongly supported the state standards in the absence of  binding, enforceable drinking water standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

PFAS have been used in thousands of applications globally, including firefighting foam, food packaging, non-stick coatings, stain and water repellents, and many other consumer products. PFAS compounds have been linked in scientific studies to:

  • Reducing a woman’s chance of getting pregnant
  • Increasing the chance of high blood pressure in pregnant women
  • Increasing the chance of thyroid disease
  • Increasing cholesterol levels
  • Changing immune response
  • Increasing the chance of cancer, especially kidney and testicular cancers.

“Governor Whitmer and EGLE deserve tremendous credit for taking this important first step in protecting Michigan residents from PFAS in their drinking water,” said Cyndi Roper, Michigan Senior Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Michigan is now regulating seven PFAS chemicals—which is more than any other state—and two of the standards are the nation’s most health protective. However, several of the new PFAS standards should have been more health protective based on the existing science.”

Roper added: “Further, even if we set standards for seven PFAS chemicals each year, it would take far too many generations to protect residents from the health impacts of these chemicals. Instead of playing regulatory whack-a-mole, Michigan should set a treatment technique that is most effective at cleaning up all known PFAS from drinking water.”

PFAS present a significant risk to human health. They break down slowly in the environment, can move quickly through the environment, and are associated with a wide array of harmful human health effects including cancer, immune system suppression, liver and kidney damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.